Egypt strengthens its Strategic Presence in the Red Sea
Addressing the Houthi threat to maritime security in the Red Sea, Egypt is
helping its Persian Gulf allies resist Iran's hegemonic ambitions in the
region. Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay discusses the recent operations of the
Dr. Shaul Shay 10/01/2017
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated on January 4, 2017, the
new headquarters of Egypt's southern naval fleet command in Safaga on the
country's Red Sea coast during his visit to the Port of Safaga Development
Project which cost EGP 510 million (approximately USD 28 million).
During the visit, al-Sisi also raised the Egyptian flag on the Mistral-class
helicopter carrier Gamal Abdel-Nasser, one of two carriers Egypt acquired
from France in 2015. The Mistral Class ships, designed for a large
helicopter aviation role as well as amphibious landing and support of
troops, would improve Egypt's capabilities in these areas. The Ka-52K
helicopters, combined with the Mistral ships’ troop landing capabilities,
offer Egypt a whole new dimension of offensive and influence operations.
The event in Safaga was attended by the newly appointed Navy Commander Ahmed
Khaled Hassan and other high-ranking Armed Forces commanders. Egyptian
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree in December 2016 in his
capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, appointing General
Ahmed Khaled Hassan, 57, Chief of Staff of Naval Forces, to the Commander of
Naval Forces, replacing Lieutenant-General Osama Mounir Mohamed Rabie. Rabie
was appointed the deputy head of the Suez Canal Authority, which operates
the Egyptian strategic shipping route between Europe and Asia.
The Egyptian Navy is a two-sea force with a Mediterranean fleet and southern
naval fleet in the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. Egypt's naval bases in the
Red Sea include Safaga, Hurghada Berenice, and Suez.
Egypt considers the Red Sea as an area of strategic interests of the
country. The Bab al-Mandeb Strait is a strategic waterway for Egypt’s
national security and the main entrance for access to the Suez Canal.
Located between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in
the Horn of Africa, it connects the Red Sea with Gulf Sea.
As a part of operation "Decisive Storm" that was launched in March 2015, one
of the Saudi-led Gulf coalition's first actions was to place Yemen's ports
under naval blockade, in part to prevent the military resupply of the
Houthis by Iran. On April 14, 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2216 lent
international support to the blockade, calling for member states to "take
the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply" of arms to
Egypt has joined the Saudi Arabia-led military campaign of Gulf States
against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. Since May 2015, Egypt has four
warships in the area of Bab al-Mandab straits as part of the Saudi
Days after joining the Gulf alliance, President al-Sisi stated that Egypt
has the right to intervene militarily to prevent Houthis from controlling or
closing the Strait, adding that such a closure “would have negative effects
on the trade in Egypt’s strategic Suez Canal, one of the country’s main
sources of income."
From Egypt's perspective, Houthi control of the strategic Straits threatens
maritime traffic in Bab al-Mandab – the strait that connects the Red Sea to
the Gulf of Aden – and might threaten Suez Canal traffic, which has been one
of the Egyptian government's most reliable revenue streams.
Addressing the threat that the Houthis pose to maritime security in the Red
Sea, Egypt is helping its Persian Gulf allies resist Iran's hegemonic
ambitions in the region. For this reasons, the Egyptian Navy plays a
significant role in the blockade around Yemen.
One of the routine tasks of the Egyptian Navy in the Red Sea is to prevent
arms and drug smugglings into Egyptian territory.
The Egyptian Navy has carried out a successful bust on drug smugglers
attempting to smuggle over 170 kg of drugs from Iran into the country by sea
on December 16, 2016. Egyptian Naval Forces intercepted “Abadan,” an Iranian
vessel in Egyptian waters in the Red Sea, and upon inspection found 319
packages containing drugs weighing some 171 kg, in addition to nine mobile
phones, a satellite phone, and wads of cash in a number of different
currencies. All seven crew members – consisting of four Iranians, two
Indians, and a Pakistani man, have been arrested and transported to a naval
base in mainland Egypt.
Egypt has one of the biggest navies in the Middle East, and the arms deals
of the last years (2014-2016) will help Egypt to upgrade and modernize its
navy. Egypt’s navy is currently taking part in a Saudi-led Arab operation
against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The deployment of the Mistral-class helicopter carrier Gamal Abdel-Nasser,
one of two carriers Egypt acquired from France in 2015 in the Red Sea is a
reflection of the strategic importance of this are for Egypt.
Egypt could use the two new warships to transport about 1,000 troops,
armored vehicles and helicopters to intervene in Yemen or other countries
where Egypt and a joint Arab force might become involved. The addition of
the Mistral ships and the new helicopters could also provide a
counter-balance against increasing Iranian influence in the region